Cider Notes

When I first decided to make cider, I turned to the home brew forums for answers to my questions. Here is what I found, in the form of an imaginary online conversation.

Gretchen and I have been growing our own apples for years now. We bought a cider press a few years back and have been making ourselves sweet cider every fall. As I get back into home brewing, after a fourteen year hiatus, I thought I would try a hard cider. How many apples will I need to pick to get enough for a batch and which should I use?

On Fri Jul 07, 2006 7:25 am, hiddendragonet wrote:

Grocery store juice/cider is vastly inferior to fresh-pressed, non-preservative cider from an orchard, so definitely go that route if you can.

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

Get your hands on the freshest cider possible, and taste it. If it tastes good, use it in your brew.

On Wed Mar 02, 2005 5:55 pm, Bardon wrote:

If you start with good apples, you get good cider. The juice you buy in the grocery store is made for fresh drinking, not fermenting. If you can’t grow your own or find a local orchard with cider apples, try to stick with a good fresh local juice in season. Another option is to find someone with a cider press and gather unwanted fruit from your neighbors. There’s never a shortage of that! Just getting a juice made from lots of different apples will help your cider taste more like apples.

On Oct 12 2007, at 12:10 AM, bierboy wrote:

One bushel of apples yields 2–3 gallons of cider. You will need several different varieties of apples to make a cider.

On Tue Feb 28, 2006 10:20 pm, Ciderman wrote:

Many orchards will take their apples right from the cooler to the press. I like to let mine sweat a few days in the crates out of the cooler prior to pressing them to maximize starch to sugar conversion.

As a homebrewer, I know that the specific gravity — the measure of the amount of (possibly) fermentable sugar, and hence the potential alcohol — is an important parameter of the recipe. What specific gravity should I expect for apple juice? If it is not high enough, can I add sugar or honey to raise the gravity?

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

Use your hydrometer to determine the specific gravity of your juice and its potential level of alcohol. (Assume that final specific gravity will drop to 1.000.) Adding fermentable sugars, such as honey, molasses, maple sugar, piloncillo or brown sugar will produce more complex flavors and a higher alcohol level.

For traditional cider, shoot for maybe 4% ABV (the BJCP guidelines say 4.5–7.0).

On Apr 26 2008, at 11:15 AM, OldTimeyDave wrote:

My local apple press makes juice upwards around 1.060 at times so it is extremely tough without an original reading. If you’d like to be even more sure the suggestion of taking a reading of the unfermented juice (if possible) is a solid idea, too.

On Jul 30 2007, at 11:20 AM, ewanzel wrote:

Most fresh ciders I have used in the past have around an SG of 1.040-ish. If you want a cider that’s low in alcohol you can always just pitch an english ale/cider yeast (I use S-04) and it will produce good results if given enough time to age/even out. Or as you suggested you can add sugar and/or honey to it, but in my opinion this tends to produce an overly dry cider with a hot flavor due to the alcohol… it takes a long time to age/mellow out. In my opinion the problem with Champagne yeast is that will survive conditions up to around 18% ABV (which means that your cider will ferment to dryness)… in my experience once you ferment to dryness it can be difficult to get a true apple flavor back. If you go with cote de blanc and a bunch of sugar you will be producing more of an country apple wine then a cider (which may not be a bad thing).

On Thu Nov 30, 2006, at 1:01 pm, Denny wrote:

After making many batches of cider, I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer just juice, with nothing to raise the gravity. It may make it stronger, but in my opinion it doesn’t make it better.

Is it alright to use windfalls?

On Mar 6 2008, at 05:13 PM, Matt the Mead Maker wrote:

The English form of hard cider known as “scrumpy” was originally made with windfalls. In fact, I read somewhere that the term “scrumpy” meant “windfall apples” before it referred to the hard cider drink.

On Mar 8 2008, at 01:18 AM, BeesNBrews wrote:

Windfalls, mostly in good condition, would have been used. Our tendency toward 0% risk has forced commercial producers away from windfalls and all the way into [with hesitation] pasteurization. Face it, you have no control over what might relieve itself on a fallen apple. Come to think of it, you have no control over what winged creature might also relieve itself on an apple

The risk is yours to take. I use windfalls, but also campden. Twenty years ago we wouldn’t even have asked this question. Next thing you know, someone is going to tell us how much alcohol we can make at home; but alas, I digress…

In beer brewing, you boil the wort for a variety of reasons, but one of them is sterilization. Is it necessary to boil the apple juice when making cider?

On Oct 13 2007, at 11:41 AM, wayneb wrote:

In general, heating any juice will do two things — it will drive off volatile aromatics that add “nose” and depth to the flavor profile, and it will cause proteins in the liquid to link into longer chains. That protein thing is what causes heated pectin to “set,” which is a good thing if you’re making jelly, but a bad thing if you want clear cider. The pectin problem can be solved to a great extent by adding pectic enzymes, which will break the pectins back down into smaller compounds that don’t then contribute to haze in the final product. But once the aromatics from a juice are lost through forced evaporation at higher temperatures, there’s no recovering them.

On May 22 2008, at 04:34 PM, Matt the Mead Maker wrote:

If the pasteurization was done with heat, it definitely would have set the pectins. If you live near a homebrew store, just swing by and pick up some pectinase. You’ll only be out a couple of bucks and it’ll clear up any pectin issues in 24 to 72 hours.

On Nov 2 2007, at 04:31 PM, wayneb wrote:

Another tip — if you’re concerned about the viability of natural yeast in your UV pasteurized cider, take a couple of locally grown apples, peel them, and then drop the skins into your cider. Leave them there until the bubbling starts, and then strain ‘em out. That’ll inoculate all the local wild yeast that you need.

BeesNBrews mentioned Campden. What, exactly, is Campden anyway?

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

As an alternative to heating, some cider makers prefer to add 50–100 parts per million (ppm) of sodium or potassium metabisulfite to their freshly squeezed cider before pitching their yeast. This is approximately one Campden tablet per gallon (3.8 L) of must. After you add the sulfite (which will kill any wild yeast and bacteria), allow the must to sit for 24 hours before the yeast is pitched.

On Wed Mar 29, 2006 12:56 pm, hiddendragonet wrote:

If you use campden or KMETA prior to pitching yeast, that vigorous stir the next day is really critical I’ve found. You really need to disburse the gas, or it will have a hard time getting off the ground.

What kind of yeast should I use?

On Tue Dec 05, 2006 1:29 pm, Sapo wrote:

Most here who strongly favor one yeast seem to go with English Cider, Sweet Mead, or wild. English Cider and Sweet mead supposedly do the best job of preserving the apple flavor, and not either skunking it with their own contributions or fermenting it out completely.

On Thu Mar 16, 2006 11:39 am, Denny wrote:

The main differences I note in cider with different yeasts is the dryness and apple character. I’ve found that using wine, champagne, or ale yeasts (especially if you add sugar to the cider) makes a VERY dry, tart cider with little apple character to it. Using natural yeasts, sweet mead, or cider yeast, the cider turns out a little less dry and still has a hint of “apple-ness” to it. Usually these days, I use nothing but fresh pressed apple juice with no sugar or anything else. I either let it ferment naturally or use the WY4766 cider yeast.

On Mon May 08, 2006 2:19 pm, Denny wrote:

I actually prefer “wild fermentation” over any cultured yeast I’ve tried, but there’s one VERY big caveat… I’ve never lost a batch to cultured yeast! For me, I’d say natural fermentation has been at best about 70% effective. The only times I’ve tried it have been when I had enough juice on hand so that I wouldn’t feel too bad if I lost a batch.

On Sep 14 2005, at 03:47 PM, HighTest wrote:

If you are using commercial yeast, make a starter using one quart of cider to one package of yeast.

In October 2007, Nathan Poell wrote:

The day before you brew your cider, make a starter. This step is optional, but it ensures that your yeast is proofed (i.e., alive) and will start fermenting your cider right away.

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

You must, however, aerate the entire mix before primary fermentation.

Do I need to add anything else?

On Jul 14th, 2008, at 11:44 am, Jer Goode wrote:

Ascorbic acid is ok; it’s just vitamin C and is added to preserve color. Winemakers often add it at bottling. It won’t hurt anything. I also add a teaspoon of acid blend, a half of tannin, and some pectic enzyme.

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

Some cider makers prefer to add pectic enzyme — usually at a rate of one quarter teaspoon per 5 gallons (19 L) — to improve the clarity of the end product. Adding yeast nutrients can also be a good idea, especially if you have added a lot of refined sugar to your cider must.

On Mon Sep 22, 2008 9:34 am Denny wrote:

I always use nutrient after having a not so good experience the one time I forgot!

On Sat Oct 04, 2008, at 10:01 am, Denny wrote:

All of my apples are very sweet… great for eating, but they make a kinda “insipid” cider. I find that if I add acid blend and tannin to simulate real cider apple varieties, it makes a much better cider.

Is there anything special about fermenting a cider?

On Sep 16 2007, at 03:55 PM, BikeBrewer wrote:

Fermenting in plastic can be OK, but I prefer to use… glass… You will get oxidation with plastic, so you can’t age at all.

I have heard that some people encounter a “rotten egg” smell during fermentation. Why is that?

On Oct 26 2007, at 10:36 PM, wayneb wrote:

The hydrogen sulfide smell (rotten eggs) comes usually from yeast that are fermenting under stress. The most common cause of that stress is lack of available nutrients, especially available nitrogen. If you detect the sulfide smell early in the fermentation, a dose of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) yeast nutrient usually does the trick. Later on in the fermentation (after about the 50% attenuation point), the yeast don’t benefit from DAP additions. You can get rid of most of the sulfide smell just from stirring the batch. That will both get the sulfide out of solution, and also eliminate excess CO₂, which can also stress the yeast. If you leave too much sulfide in the cider, it will eventually bond with the alcohol in the brew to make mercaptans, which kind of smell like rotten cabbage, and are much harder to get rid of than the sulfides.

Do I want to rack the cider into a separate vessel for secondary fermentation?

On May 22 2008, at 08:36 AM, ScottS wrote:

My preference is to not put it in bottles until it tastes right. Eliminates the guesswork. Primary until fermentation is finished, secondary until it’s ready to drink, with a racking or two in there if it throws lots of lees.

What are lees?

On Dec 16 2007, at 09:53 PM, mike911 wrote:

Lees, in a nutshell, are whatever settles out of your wine, mead, cider, etc. Quite often it is the “spent” yeast cells that fall out of the must, but could also be fruit or spice particles, or pretty well anything else.

On Jun 14 2007, at 09:03 PM, Nurse Nan wrote:

As cider (or mead or wine or beer) ferments, the yeast multiply (breed) eat the sugar, produce CO₂ and alcohol and die. Dead yeast, impurities in your must and other unfermentable cellular debris (plant cellulose) fall out of solution as the specific gravity drops. If this happens too quickly/early in fermentation, it can sometimes take live/healthy yeast with it. This build up at the bottom of the fermentor are the lees/sediment. If left in place too long, they start breaking down, producing off flavors in your brew. That is why I rack.

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

As in established brewing and winemaking practice, you must transfer (rack) your cider off its dead yeast and sediment. Do this after seven to ten days of fermentation. Leave the still fermenting cider in this secondary fermentation vessel for at least two more weeks.

On Jun 15 2007, at 09:47 AM, mike911 wrote:

In some cases people will leave their wine, mead, etc. on the lees for extended aging, called sur lie aging, which can add different flavors to it like a nutty flavor, but this is something which must be monitored or the nutty can turn into something else, which may not be desirable. I’ve never tried it myself, but there are others here who have, I believe. But yes, the reason is to clarify your final product.

Okay. There is an argument for going long in either primary or secondary. I can appreciate that. Styles and personal tastes and all. How about some typical times, though?

On Wed Aug 02, 2006 7:06 am, sirbrewzalot wrote:

It seems to me its better to wait at least 3 weeks. Ciders ferment slowly, and if you rack it after a week you’ll just have to rack it again because it will continue to ferment and throw lees.

On Wed Wed Sep 13, 2006 9:52 am, Denny wrote:

Be patient and don’t rush it.

On Wed Nov 02, 2005 11:12 am, Denny wrote:

I’ve found that I just need to forget about time completely when I make cider. A month or 2 in primary and 3-6 months in secondary is my usual schedule. Then I give them 1-2 years in the bottle. Cider seems to me to be much more like wine or mead than beer in that respect. But the real answer to how much time to give it is “Until it tastes good to YOU!”. Like most things in brewing, though, patience pays off.

On Wed Nov 10, 2004 12:45 pm, Denny wrote:

Time is on your side… when in doubt, do nothing!

On Oct 23 2007, at 09:01 PM, Stuster wrote:

I’d suggest not being in too much of a hurry with cider. I’ve found that the flavour tends to mellow and meld together from a reasonably long secondary (almost the only time I do secondaries). With my current batch of cider, I did 2 weeks in primary, then 4 months in secondary. It’s crystal clear now, and tasting pretty good.

On Oct 26 2007, at 12:57 PM, OldTimeyDave wrote:

My technique has a lot to do with playing by ear… or well sight, smell and taste in [this case]. I’ll usually let my primary go 2–3 weeks and sometimes a month. It depends on activity, OG, temperature, taste, yeast, etc.

It can sit in secondary for another month or so… Until I am happy with where it is headed and as long as the airlock still active.

On Sep 14 2005, at 03:47 PM, HighTest wrote:

Once primary fermentation is nearly completion (SG 1.010 or less), rack the cider to a sanitized glass carboy. Over the next few months expect the cider to throw lots of lees. Rack every two or three months until lee production stops.

On Mon Dec 03, 2007 at 9:21 am, wayneb wrote:

Now on to the length of time you need to be in the primary — a month is more than I leave any of my ciders, fruit wines, or meads in primary. My interpretation of “end of primary” is when I’m closing in on the final SG that I’d like the brew to have. Then I’ll rack off of the gross lees, which will usually slow fermentation dramatically, and I’ll keep the must in a carboy for several months while fermentation totally finishes up, then the wine clears. In years past, before the desirability of feeding yeast with nitrogen-based nutrients and vitamins was known, primary fermentations of several months were common — especially in meads, since the must from honey is nutrient poor. However, with application of nutrients to your must at the right times and in the right quantities, you can complete primary fermentation of virtually any recipe within a week or two.

What about bottle conditioning?

On Fri Aug 08, 2008 10:19 am, Denny wrote:

I use 1 oz. of corn sugar per gal. of cider for carbonation.

On Sep 14 2005, at 03:47 PM, HighTest wrote:

It is highly recommended to bulk age your cider for approximately 9 months. That is when it will approach it’s peak flavor, and when lee production is more or less finished. You can bottle earlier if desired, but you will likely get significant amounts of nasty tasting lees in the bottles.

On Oct 26 2007, at 12:57 PM, OldTimeyDave wrote:

As a rule I usually carbonate naturally by batch or bottle priming. I don’t think the cider is worth drinking for at least a month or two, 3 months is awesome and some folks say a year is best.

Cider is more of a slow food than beer is and can’t be made as rapidly.

On Jun 19 2008, at 03:51 PM, jwhite751 wrote:

Let them age, you will be amazed at how much better they will be after 3 months minimum. After 6 months you will be very impressed and even your friends will drink them. I have been brewing beer for 15 years and very seldom do they last past 6 months. Cider is just starting to be very good at that point and will continue to improve at a year or more.

On June 23, 2008, at 5:58 pm, krausenator wrote:

Most ciders need a minimum 4–6 months in the bottle to condition before they are good. So you may just need to wait.

I hear a lot of people say their cider is dry or still. Why is that?

On Jul 2 2007, at 12:44 PM, mikesarney wrote:

When you make cider without kegging, you can either have sweet and still, or dry and sparkling.

Adding sorbate inhibits the yeast, and allows you to have sweet cider. The problem is, without the yeasties doing their thing, you get no CO₂ for carbonation.

On Apr 25 2008, at 08:28 AM, ScottS wrote:

Attenuation rates are not applicable to things that have fully fermentable sugars. Cider and mead musts are fully fermentable, so the only barrier to fermenting everything is the alcohol tolerance of the yeast. Unless you add a TON of sugar to your cider, just about any yeast you use is going to ferment it to dryness.

On Apr 9 2007, at 12:12 PM, Matt the Mead Maker wrote:

If you add sorbates and want a sparkling cider, you’ll have to force-carbonate with kegging equipment. You’re not going to get a sweet, naturally carbonated cider due to the fact that fructose (the dominant sugar in apple juice) is 100% fermentable. Malt is not 100% fermentable and that’s why you can have residual sweetness in a beer and still be able to bottle-carbonate with sugar.

If you don’t want to buy kegging equipment and still want a sparkling cider with sweetness, you’ll have to add spices such as vanilla and/or cinnamon which create the perception of sweetness without imparting any actual sugars.

On Apr 9 2007, at 03:07 PM, wayneb wrote:

The other thing you could do is to add a more complex sugar (such as lactose), which will not ferment and will contribute a sweet taste to the result. The trick is to NOT use sorbate or anything else to inhibit the yeast, then to prime in the same way you’d do for a beer, and to also add some pre-dissolved lactose. I’d recommend making up a lactose simple syrup (lactose dissolved in heated water) and adding to taste, but if you want just a recommended recipe most people are satisfied with around 1 to 2 pounds of lactose per 5 gal as a backsweetener. Keep in mind that lactose intolerant people will have a hard time with your cider if you choose to go this way!

On Apr 9 2007, at 04:34 PM, hiddendragonet wrote:

FWIW, I use 2 pounds of lactose in my 5 gallons of cider. Lactose isn’t very sweet, and frankly I doubt you’d even really notice 1 pounds. Two pounds is perfect to give it just a wee hint of sweetness to take the bone-dry tart edge off, at least for my tastes. I like it because like Wayne said, I can sweeten a bit and still bottle carbonate.

On Mon Mar 26, 2007 2:49 pm, hiddendragonet wrote:

Yup, I’ve made 20 gallons of cider this way, with 2 lbs. lactose per 5 gallons. It’s become my standard. For those interested, 2 lbs. sounds like a lot but it really only sweetens it up a little bit because lactose isn’t very sweet. It’s the only way I could find to sweeten naturally while still carbonating in the bottle. Otherwise cider is bone dry.

On Tue Jan 03, 2006 3:00 pm, hiddendragonet wrote:

I saw how hard it would be to get 2 pounds of lactose to dissolve in my cider, so first I boiled a pint of water, added ¾ cups dextrose for priming, and boiled for 5 minutes. Then I added about a quart or more of cider to the pot, raised the heat, and added the lactose. I had it at high heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly. It looked just like milk! As the cider approached the boiling point, the lactose finally dissolved quickly. A couple of stirs and it was finally clear.

In Nov, 2004, Paul Zocco wrote:

You are now at the stage of finalizing, modifying and bottling. If your cider lacks tartness/acidity, you can add malic acid — the acid found in apples — or an acid blend, as used by many winemakers and meadmakers. Try adding 0.5 ounces (14 g), then taste and add more if needed. Likewise, if it lacks sharpness, you can add tannins by adding grape tannins. Start with ½ tsp., then add more if taste dictates. If your original sweet cider was a bit low in sweetness or body, you may end up with an extremely dry and flavorless cider.

If you prefer a bubbly version, you would then add three quarters of a cup of corn sugar and a package of Champagne yeast to your 5-gallon (19 L) batch, and proceed to bottle. (If you’ve added sorbate solution to your mix, the carbonation will not work.)

Why do you add Champagne yeast?

On Mon Mar 26, 2007 11:39 am, hiddendragonet wrote:

I let my cider completely drop clear in secondary. This usually takes 2-3 months. Then I prime with ¾ cup dextrose and bottle. No extra yeast is added, and it carbs up every time no problem.

On Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:06 am, BrewBoyTrev wrote:

Generally, that would be true, but when I make my ciders, they typically spend about 2 months in primary, and then 2-4 months in secondary, and another 4-6 months in a third carboy at cool cellar temps. By the time I bottle, I am making the assumption that there is little viable yeast left in suspension. Even if I’m wrong, the $1.50 is a small price to pay to ensure that I have adequately carbonated ciders.

On Sun Mar 25, 2007 5:20 pm, Pseudolus wrote:

Bottling without additional yeast would probably work, but I’d add half a packet anyway just as cheap insurance.

On Sat Jun 09, 2007 11:57 pm, BrewBoyTrev wrote:

At bottling, I add whichever yeast I used to ferment it. I rehydrate it in a little boiled and cooled water, then I pour the yeast and thawed juices into the bottling bucket.

On Wed Aug 15, 2007 5:12 pm, BrewBoyTrev wrote:

I simply rehydrate a packet of yeast, pitch it into my bottling bucket with the priming sugar (sugar, honey or juice concentrate), and then VERY GENTLY stir it to mix it. It works every time.

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p>From this, I made my Red Cap Cider.

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